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New Federal EPA Rule for SoCal Offshore Fracking

Although state sources contend they are unaware of recent drilling activity in federal waters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday published a new rule requiring reporting of future use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) offshore Southern California. The new requirement is to be effective March 1, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

Recent Associated Press (AP) reports said that at least a dozen offshore fracking jobs were completed in the Santa Barbara Channel over an unspecified period of time, and another 200 fracking jobs were allegedly performed in closer-in state waters.

EPA did not immediately respond to NGI questions regarding whether the new reporting requirement covers other offshore federal water outside of Southern California.

Last August, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) noted potential environmental impacts from the use of fracking along the Pacific Coast in both federal and state waters (see Shale Daily, Aug. 19, 2013). The CCC staff then launched an investigation into reports that fracking has occurred in federal waters for the past 25 years and more recently in state waters.

CCC staff told commissioners that they were alerted to the issue by a series of letters from lawmakers and environmental groups, along with an AP report. Nevertheless, industry representatives argue that with the stiff federal regulations -- through the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES -- already in place, operators offshore California are not discharging anything, let alone fracking fluids, into the ocean.

California energy officials are in the midst of a year-long process to implement new stringent rules regarding onshore fracking via a new state law (SB 4) that took effect Jan. 1. The Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is accumulating public comment on the draft rules and a draft environmental impact report, leading toward new rules going into effect Jan. 1, 2015 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 12, 2013).

EPA's latest action “should not have an impact on our ongoing work because discharges already are prohibited in state waters, which is the limit of our jurisdiction," Oil/Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic told NGI Friday.

According to the AP report, the largest offshore California fracking work was completed by Venoco Inc. in January 2010. That job targeted the Monterey Shale. Venoco has said publicly that the exploratory drilling was unsuccessful.

Expressing surprise at the new EPA rule, officials at the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) said they are unaware of any fracking taking place offshore California in federal waters.

“Very few of our members have any offshore operations these days, and I have been told none are fracking,” said WSPA Communications Director Tupper Hull.  “NPDES are very restrictive."

In addition, Hull reiterated an industry contention that even when fracking has occurred offshore, under the process and regulatory requirements, no fracking water or chemicals has been leaked into the ocean.

"Most, if not all, produced water generated offshore is shipped onshore for treatment and then reinjected into the production zone," Hull said  "None of it is discharged to the ocean, so it’s hard to imagine that fracturing fluid is being put into the ocean.”

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